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Book Review: Running the ‘Highway to Hell’ By Graeme Harvey


Graeme competed in the Marathon des Sables in 2013 and came 366th overall, it took him 37 hours and 55 minutes. His book gives a detailed account of how he came to be doing the MdS, his training, and his actual experience during the event (including a very detailed chapter on how to go to the bathroom!)

He also includes a detailed packing list (with the weights of the different items) and a nice little question and answer section, covering off topics: such as what food he took, should you take a camera? Do you need flip flops or hotel slippers? Etc.

It was a great book to read, it gives a good idea of what to expect. It’s well worth the money, (£1.97) it’s a quick interesting read, about thirty minutes or so and it provides lots of useful information and tips. So much so, I’ve found myself going back to it a few times to re-read certain sections. This time I decided to make a note of all the useful and essential “need to know” information provided, just to have it all in one place.


  • Have a training plan for endurance.

  • Have a gym plan focused on core work, body conditioning and strength training.

  • Only start training with a pack in the final 3 months and build up the weight gradually. Any earlier and you’ll risk injury.

Before you go

  • Attend a Sandbaggers Seminar where you can have an ECG done. This needs to be done 30 days before the event.

  • Do a 50 mile race so you’ll know you have it in your legs.

  • Get your weight down, the lighter you are the easier you’ll find it.


  • Test everything: food, clothing, recovery shakes, head torches etc before you take it to the desert.

  • Pack weight is a minimum of 6.5 kg. Aim to be as light as you can be.

  • Wear the same clothes all week.

  • T-shirt – Z mechanic 2.5 silver reflector heat top (to draw heat from the skin and keep you cool in the hot sun).

  • Equipment he took

  • Backpack – Original Raidlight Olmo 20 – (which includes a whistle and also a cord for the flare)

  • Bottles 2 x 700 ml (Osprey)

  • Sleeping bag & silk liner

  • Mat – (Klymit X Litre)

  • Ear plugs

  • Sunglasses

  • Spare socks – 1000 mile fusion

  • Buff worn

  • Down Gilet

  • Ipod Nano & headphones

  • Toothbrush & toothpaste

  • Mini duct tape

  • Esbit Solid Fuel Tablets


  • Head torch with batteries & spare batteries

  • 10 Safety Pins

  • Button Compass 1 or 2 degree precision

  • Lighter

  • Whistle (on bag)

  • Swiss Army Knife

  • Anti-Venom Pump - Aspivenin

  • Signalling Mirror

  • Aluminium Survival Sheet

  • Flare

  • Road book

  • Cash – 200 euro – take two 100 euro notes (these weight the least)


  • Topical Disinfectant/tincture benzoin (Compound Tincture of Benzoin (CTB) applied to the skin before applying tape or other adhesive bandages. It makes the tape adhere much longer).

  • Electrolytes - Elete

  • P20 sunscreen

  • Body glide - small

  • Toilet Roll

  • Antibacterial Hand Gel

  • ‘Wemmi Wipes’ x 6

  • Paracetamol (16) and Ibuprofen (16)

  • Imodium

  • Anti-Histamine

  • Lip Balm

  • Plasters

  • Hapla Tape


  • Don’t leave your food outside your tent, it could get eaten!

  • Ditch gels and sports drinks and have, Nakd Bars and take high fat foods e.g. almonds, cashew nuts and salted peanuts.

  • Take recovery drinks and dehydrated meals to replace carbohydrates

  • Carbo load before the big day.

  • Have a high fat breakfast


  • Don’t eat any food if you drop it on the rug in the tent. The tent rugs are vile.

  • Disinfect your hands before they go near your food or your mouth.

The Race

  • A ‘Jebel’ is a sand dune.

  • Walk up the hills or any uphill sections.

  • Have a post race routine e.g. pack off, recovery shake, clear stones from under rug, lie down, feet up, rest, dinner, eat, hydrate, relax, lie down, head torch out, pee, sleep.

Long Stage

  • Clear your pack out the night before and bin anything you don’t need or haven’t used.

  • Long stage 47 miles. Graeme completed it in 13 hrs 38 mins.

  • Have a goal on the long day and a race strategy e.g. run/walk etc

  • If people invite you to join in with them, do it, it’ll keep you motivated.

  • Get as much as you can done in the light.

  • Don’t be afraid to take a break during the day, max 10 mins. Don’t take a break in the dark or you won’t get back up.

  • Make sure your head torch works when running in the dark.

  • Once you’re back have a recovery shake and food as soon as possible, to help you recover.

  • Your feet are likely to swell.

Mental preparation

  • Is just as important as physical preparation.

  • Run your own race each day.

  • Take the time to look and think about what you’re doing and appreciate the beauty of the desert.

Recommended Reading from Graeme:

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